Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hunger protests planned in Pakistan

Protest are planned throughout Pakistan this weekend give voice to rampant food insecurity in the country. 60 million Pakistanis struggle to put food on the table. Global Call to Action Against Poverty will organize the rallies.

A government subsidy program to provide low cost bread to people has many concerns over corruption. The massive subsidies continue even while the government faces bankruptcy. To help avoid a collapse, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have promised aid to Pakistan.

For more on the suspect subsidy program, we go to this IPS article written by Zofeen Ebrahim.

Even an initiative such as ‘sasti roti’ (cheap unleavened bread) being provided by the provincial government of Punjab is suspect. Questions are being asked about its sustainability on the one hand and, on the other, why it cannot be extended to provinces like Sindh.

Haris Gazdar, a Karachi-based economist, said: "We must know who is paying for it. Is it the government, farmers through lower procurement rate or other provinces through forced up market prices due to reduced supply from (largely farming) Punjab?"

"It is coming out from our own (provincial) budget. We are slashing down our non-developmental budget and the administrative expenditure significantly," said Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta, district coordination officer in Lahore, capital of the Punjab.

"Out of 5,000 tandoors (clay ovens) in Lahore, 3,200 are registered with the government’s scheme to sell the rotis at fixed rates,’’ said Bahadur Khan, president of the Nanbai (leavened bread-makers) Association of Lahore. The scheme has also been introduced in other big cities of the province including Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Muzaffargarh, Sargodha, Liah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bhakkar and a few others.

For its part the government is providing these tandoor shops with flour at a subsidised rate of Rs 250 (three US dollars) per kg when the same is selling in retail shops at Rs 333 (four dollars) per kg.

"But this solution can't go on indefinitely without fixing the local production problem which is in the hands of big feudals," said Najma Sadeque, a senior journalist and development expert. "It also means there was no major physical wheat shortage in the first place.’’

Many believe that it was the food crisis more than terrorism or anything else that proved to be former president Pervez Musharraf’s undoing at the February elections where irate voters trounced the party that backed him.

Musharraf appeared aware of the brewing crisis and, during the last two years of his nearly nine years in power, resorted to dishing out massive subsidies on wheat and other staples that economists say the country is still paying for.

Musharraf’s successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, is now trying his best to convince Pakistanis that his government is capable of steering the country out of the mess - mainly by seeking a bailout worth 10 billion dollars and stave off bankruptcy.

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